A major bump in funding for affordable housing in B.C. and a vow to improve protections for tenants were included in the NDP government’s 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, but its promised $400 rebate for renters was nowhere to be found.
The $1.6 billion in new spending on homes came alongside a raft of measures to stabilize the real estate market, crack down on fraud and close loopholes, and was part of a broader 10-year, 30-point plan that called for 114,000 affordable homes over the next decade.
Carole James, the deputy premier and finance minister, said in her budget speech that the problem of housing affordability had been ignored for too long and the consequences were now being felt throughout the province.
“People have clearly been hurt by the housing crisis. B.C. businesses and our economy are feeling the effects as well,” James said, adding that there is now a “drastic shortage of affordable housing” in the province.
“Demand is one half of the affordability equation. Supply is the other half,” she said, referring to ways to cure the hurt.
Included in the budget was about $565 million for new units of student housing and homes for those facing homelessness and for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. The spending on housing for women and children was touted by the government as the first significant investment of its kind in the last two decades.
The student beds would be delivered through a new program that would allow post-secondary institutions to borrow from the province to help finance on-campus housing, according to the NDP’s 30-point plan. The idea is to help students find housing close to schools and to free up rental units in surrounding communities, James said.
In place of the promised $400 renters rebate was an idea to review the Home Owner Grant “to improve fairness and support for renters.” The grant has provided financial relief to B.C. homeowners come tax season even as those same owners watched the value of their homes soar in recent years. Tenants saw no comparable relief as their rents swelled to record highs.
Asked by a reporter whether the $400 rebate would ever be coming, James said the government continued to explore it among other ideas, adding “we’re not going to do everything overnight.”
The budget provided for an average increase of $930 per year to the shelter aid for elderly renters, and an average $800 increase for low income working parents through the Rental Assistant Program.
“Seniors struggling to meet rising housing costs on fixed incomes are at risk of homelessness. And parents have told me that they worry their children won’t have a safe, secure place to live, let alone be able to afford a home,” James said.
Included in the 30-point housing plan was a commitment “to make changes to the laws that apply in cases of renovations or demolitions to ensure that renters left without housing have adequate support.” The government also plans to provide “a stronger response” to cases where landlords misuse provisions that allow them to repair or upgrade existing rental stock.
The budget called for a new housing office at B.C. Housing tasked with bringing together governments, builders, faith groups, non-profits and private sector partners to find and redevelop available land and buildings. Meanwhile, a change to the Municipal and Regional District tax (commonly known as the hotel tax) would expand its allowable use to include measures to fund housing initiatives.
Last year saw 43,664 housing starts, up from 31,446 in 2015. Those starts are approaching the highest level ever recorded in the province, James said.
Housing budget by the numbers:
The $1.6 billion for housing includes:
- $259 million for new student housing beds
- $306 million for new housing for women, children and homeless people
- $155 million operating funds for Indigenous housing
- $445 million operating funds for affordable rentals
- $116 for rental assistance programs
- $308 million for maintenance, seismic and energy performance upgrades for existing units
- $32 million for other supports
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